Determination Can be Deadly

Mt Adams from Mt Madison

There is no way I can know what was in Kate Matrosova’s mind as she set off to climb The Presidential Traverse that would take her to the peaks of Mounts Madison (5,367 feet), Adams (5,794 feet), Jefferson (5,716 feet) and Washington (6,288 feet) on the Sunday of President’s Day weekend.  The New Hampshire peaks aren’t huge by standards of the western U.S.   People do it in the winter, but it takes determination.   The plan was to leave at 5 am and meet her husband at the end of her trek at 6 pm.  Some people do it in one day, some take two or three. The weather at the top of the mountain can be the worst in the world with winds once measured at 231 miles per hour.  Today?  Only 40 miles per hour and the temperature -6°F.  One can prepare for that.

While I lack the youth, mountaineering experience and condition of Ms Matrosova, I can imagine preparing and equipping myself for the journey and making plans to go on that specific weekend.  A solid goal, a solid plan and a vision of success, plus the determination to head up the trail to complete the journey and achieve that success.  Determination – the will to press on to achieve the goal – pays dividends in much of life, but sometimes determination must surrender to pragmatism.

She summited Mt. Madison, but by the time Matrosova reached the top of Mt. Adams her determination had succumbed and she started down the mountain the way she had come.  Still above tree line at 3:30 pm, winds buffeted her at 77 miles an hour and temperatures had dropped to -21°F. She could no longer continue.  Being prepared, she had an emergency locater beacon which she activated.

Rescuers were immediately notified of her location and by 7 pm they were on the trail.  They arrived at the last known beacon coordinates after midnight, but Matrosova was not to be found.  By then the temperature was -35°F and the wind was howling, they had to return.  Subsequent transmissions bounced her position to various points around the peak.  As it turns out, under these conditions locator beacons are not too precise.

Another team set out Monday morning in 100 mile per hour winds.  The only place on the planet that was colder was at the South Pole.  They found Matrosova where the wind had blown her a few hundred feet off the trail and smashed her to the ground.  She died there and was found 22 hours after she first activated the beacon.

There are many lessons to be learned – a lot of ifs, buts and maybes.  For me it involves the balance between determination and pragmatism.  Matrosova’s determination kept her on the climb a little too long and she lost her life.  When the reality doesn’t match the vision and before nature becomes overpowering, its time to abandon the vision even if it seems like you just might make it.

What have you learned from her story?

The photo (by Paulbalegend from Wikimedia Commons) shows Mt. Adams as seen from Mt. Madision and the ridge where Kate Matrosova died.

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